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Scott's Column
Home Server, Dell XPS M1330 vs. MacBook, Windows vs. Ubuntu

August 1, 2007
By Scott Lewis

The big story for this month is my "new" home server. O.K. I rebuilt my old server with some new parts, and some newer used parts. But who's splitting hairs here. I also took a spec-for-spec look at the new Dell XPS M1330 and compared it to a couple of MacBook laptops. Finally, I have what may be my biggest news, I compared two Dell laptops, one with Ubuntu one with Windows, so we could weed out how much Windows Vista really costs.

Current Topics:

Shameless Self Promotion (Black Only Printing from Color Printer)

Before we get to this month's topics, I just wanted to do a little shameless self promotion. I sent in a tip to Windows Secrets newsletter. In their July 12th newsletter Dennis J. Haggerty mentioned that his Epson Stylus Photo R300 printer used some of the color inks even when printing monochrome black output. I sent in the following tip:

"I have a HP Photosmart P1000 printer, and there doesn't seem to be an easy way to get black-only output. My workaround is to use 'Add a New Printer' manually in Windows.

"Go to the Printers section of the Control Panel and click Add Printer. In the dialog boxes that follow, I select a local printer and uncheck the option to Detect and install a plug-and-play printer. I make sure to select the same port (USB, parallel, etc.) that the color printer is attached to. I then manually select an HP DeskJet 500 printer from the list of printers that Windows displays. I finish installing this printer and set it as my default printer.

"Since the drivers for the DeskJet 500 know nothing about color, I get pure black ink from the black cartridge and no color from the tri-color cartridge. Every HP inkjet printer I have come across is backward-compatible with the DeskJet 500."

My tip was printed in the July 19th issue under the heading "DeskJet driver saves ink on other HP printers." Just scroll down one page from the link to read it.

Kudos to me for coming up with a tip to warrant mention is such a well established and respected newsletter. I have been doing this for years. I have always hated looking for a way to print a simple web page in black and white. Setting up a "phantom" printer that is a black only model works like a charm. It is also far easier to switch between color and black and white this way. Just do Print As... and select the printer. Simple.

Windows Secrets gives you a $25 gift certificate to Amazon.com when they use your tip. That showed up in my in-box the day after the newsletter. Cool!

We will now return you to our regularly scheduled topics.

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Home Server

My wife got a new laptop. She is having a tough time dealing with Windows Vista. Another reason I suggest waiting for Vista if you can do so. Microsoft Word crashed on her previous laptop. She was very smart and ran the backup script I wrote for her. Then she reboot the computer. This left her computer in an endless reboot cycle. I popped in the Windows XP disc and booted from that. It offered to repair Windows and I let it do that. After about 5 minutes the laptop reboot and then proclaimed it had 39 minutes left to install Windows. Apparently the repair was to reinstall Windows.

Since the laptop was over 3 years old and long since out of warrantee we decided she should get a new laptop. We ended up getting a Toshiba F45-AV411 with Intel Centrino Duo (Core 2 Duo, 802.11n, 2GB RAM, 200 GB HD, DVD Burner, 15.4 " screen, etc.). It included Windows Vista Ultimate. We setup the old laptop for my youngest son. Long time readers will remember he had my old laptop, until his uncle stepped on it ruining the screen. So his uncle passed onto him his old 12" Compaq laptop. Well, the Compaq laptop was now passed on to my niece.

What does all this have to do with a Home Server? Simple, while we were at the store buying a laptop I picked up a hard drive and two memory sticks to rebuild my server. As you will recall from my March column I mentioned I had an Intel motherboard and Celeron processor lying around. All I needed to upgrade my server was memory and optionally a hard drive. A friend of mine was deployed to Iraq, and wanted to build an "off duty hours" server there for the men in his unit. I decided I would donate the drives from my server to his cause (more next month). So I bought a new hard drive. I picked up a 320 GB drive and 2 - 512 MB PC3200 memory modules. The PC3200 memory is backward compatible with PC2100 and it was cheaper. Cool! I spent $180 at Best Buy. I could have saved $20 by going to Fry's, but that is in Austin and too far away to justify the savings.

It didn't take long to build the server. I have been backing up the server to my laptop... then to DVDs since that March column. My total prep time came to one last check for new or changed files on the server and copying them to my laptop. I unplugged all the connections from the server and took the box out of the server room (the closet in my study).

Side Story: The transformer that provides power to my house was hit by lightening and it took out my desktop computer and my dishwasher. After buying and installing a new dishwasher I knew I could not spend the money to get my desktop working. But I decided to try the least expensive approach. I bought a new power supply ($45) on the hope that it could be the item that took the hit. It did not help, but I left the new power supply in the desktop case for when I can afford to get it running again. I used the old power supply from the desktop in the home server... which proved it did not get damaged by the power outage.

With my desktop machine opened I "borrowed" the CD-ROM drive and the afore mentioned power supply. I had to remove the network card, sound card, video card and parallel printer card from the server to get the motherboard out. What? What is a parallel printer card? Well, at one time in the distant past this machine was my desktop computer. We had two printers that both used a parallel cable. So I bought a parallel printer card for the machine. LPT2 anyone?

Everything went together without a hitch. Motherboard, power supply, new hard drive, memory modules. Everything was straight forward. I put the box behind my desk and hooked it up to the keyboard, mouse and monitor for my desktop computer.

I installed Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition. This is more than enough. I actually installed the operating system twice. See, the first time I was overly zealous and jumped in without thinking. I forgot to partition the hard drive. I don't know anyway to repartition the hard drive on a server without buying software. So... reboot and start over. I create a 25 GB partition to hold the operating system and a second partition to be used for all the data.

Everything is working splendidly. I created two main shared folders on the D: drive. One called Public and one called Backups. The Public fold gives everyone read/write access to the entire structure. I put all our music, pictures, software installs, downloads, drivers, etc. in that folder. You name it and it is in there. The Backups folder works differently. I created a folder for each machine on the network. I gave read/write permission to the user that each machine belongs to. I revoked all other access by other users. The idea is that people can backup their files from their own computer to this area without worrying that anyone is going to see them. However, I did make an exception. The folders for my two son's computer are set for read only access to my wife and I. We want to be able to keep tabs on them. Of course we didn't tell them we have access... unless they read this.

I also created root folders for each user. Each user has read/write access to them and, like the sub-folders within the Backups folder, no one else has access. These would be a place for someone to store files on the network rather than their PC and know they will be private.

By the way. You will notice that I refer to it as "the network." So does my wife and my sister-in-law next door. So I named the server TheNetwork. Now when people say, "I put it on 'the network,'" it means they put it on the server... which is actually correct.

It took a good deal of time to get the permissions all set correctly. I had to break parent dependencies in some place and make sure they existed in others. It wasn't hard, just tedious work. I did the same thing for the printers. I set them so those in my house can print, but the family next door cannot.

I have not installed Oracle or SQL Server yet. I had to re-upload all my web pages. However, since I am in the middle of converting the old web pages to the new format the old pages are gone. It would have been far too much trouble to try and put the old pages back while making sure the new pages are properly working. Besides, this gives me the excuse to get the old pages converted to the new format. I am converting over pages about a dozen at a time. Hopefully by the end of august the entire archive will be complete. I had intended to proof read all the old articles and edit them for spelling and grammar. However, because I don't have the luxury of you being able to read the archive in the old format anymore, I am just copying the text into the new format as fast as I can.

I will go back are proof read them at a later time. Sorry.

I had fun building this server. I was able to set up folders and permissions far better than I did the last time. 20/20 hindsight being was it is. I wonder how Microsoft's Home Server is going to work. As I understand it it will be a hardware/software product and they do not plan to release the software for people to build their own home servers. That's a shame, but understandable. I can see the work I did being more trouble than an average user or power user would be able to tackle. However, the product Microsoft plans to release may be to simple for some tasks. What would happen if Apple built a home server product? Now that would be interesting. It would be just like the Mac Mini but with more storage and be designed to work all by itself. They just have to add the server features and a secure remote access piece to administer the thing.

If anyone wants to know how to setup their own home server feel free to contact me and I will be glad to lend a hand.

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MacBook vs. Dell XPS M1330

Last month I covered a few Dell laptops and compared them to what Apple offers in its MacBook and MacBook Pro line. Just a day before I finished that piece I saw an article on a new Dell model, the XPS M1330. Just from the model number I assumed the new laptop went to a 13.3" screen. I remember looking at the XPS line when I was shopping for a laptop. I could not afford the 17" XPS laptop in Dell's line up. The 12.1" XPS M1210 was about the same price as the 17" Toshiba I bought, but came with an inferior graphics sub-system. Clearly you were paying for the small size that happens to come with decent horsepower. Top of the line power was not the M1210's strong suit. It was a well powered, very small laptop.

I wrote the previous paragraph, and this one, having only read that Dell was adding the XPS M1330 to its model line. What has me curious is that last month's Mac vs. Windows laptops article showed that there weren't any windows laptops that competed directly with Apple's 13" MacBook product line. The 13" MacBook I looked at last month was the only laptop in its price range with a CPU faster than 2.0 GHz. Also, most laptops in the same price range had 15.4" screens compared to the MacBook's 13.3". You might think this was a disadvantage for the Mac, but in reality it goes in the Mac's favor. The MacBook models have a screen resolution of 1280 x 800, which is the same resolution that all those 15.4" screen have. So the MacBook ends up being smaller and lighter while maintaining a better quality screen. The MacBook laptops are very portable machines.

So... before I look at the Dell I am looking for some answers. 1) Does the M1330 replace the M1210? 2) What resolution is the screen? 3) What graphic chipset does it use? 4) How much does it weight? 5) How much does it cost? Basically I want to see how the XPS M1330 stacks up against Apple's MacBook line. Let's see.

13" MacBook $1,299
2.16 GHz
1 GB RAM
Intel GMA 950
     w/ 64MB shared
120GB @ 5400 rpm
Slot loading CD/DVD
802.11n WiFi
Bluetooth
Gigabit Ethernet
iSight Camera
5.1 pounds (w/ 55Whr)
13.3" 1280 x 800
Dell XPS M1330 $1,299
1.5 GHz
1 GB RAM
Intel Integrated X3100
     w/ shared memory
120GB @ 5400 rpm
Slot loading CD/DVD
802.11a/g
No Bluetooth
100 Megabit Ethernet
2.0 Megapixel WebCam
3.9 pounds (w/ 37Whr)
13.3" 1280 x 800
Dell XPS M1330 $1,649
2.2 GHz
1 GB RAM
Intel Integrated X3100
     w/ shared memory
120GB @ 5400 rpm
Slot loading CD/DVD
Intel Wireless-N
Bluetooth
100 Megabit Ethernet
2.0 Megapixel WebCam
4+ pounds (w/ 56Whr)
13.3" 1280 x 800
Dell XPS M1330 $2,149
2.2 GHz
2 GB RAM
nVidia GeForce 8400M GS
     w/ 128MB RAM

120GB @ 5400 rpm
Slot loading CD/DVD
Intel Wireless-N
Bluetooth
100 Megabit Ethernet
0.3 Megapixel WebCam
4.7 pounds (w/ 85Whr)
13.3" LED 1280 x 800 *

Notice that the base XPS M1330 with no options ($1,299 above) comes with only a 1.5 GHz processor compared to the Mac's 2.16 GHz at the same price point. The XPS does come with Intel's latest integrated graphics chip set, but this is not enough to make up for the speed difference. The XPS is clearly lighter than the MacBook. (Just before going to press I saw one at the Dell Kiosk in the mall. It was not on, and was not plugged in. I suspect the battery was dead. I picked it up and it is so light I thought it was a non-functional demo unit. It is that light.) I have read that the standard battery of the XPS does not have much capacity. To match the MacBook's battery you would have to get the optional 56Whr battery from Dell. This is only a $30 upgrade, but it will increase the weight some. However, the Dell is clearly the weight champ here.

I decided to try and more closely match the MacBook with the Dell XPS M1330. The results are the third column above, where the Dell is listed at $1,649. Notice here that we added the processor that was closest to the processor in the MacBook, added the bigger battery, upgraded to Wireless N and included Bluetooth. Ouch, the XPS is now $350 more than Mac. Oops!

While I was playing around on Dell's site I thought it would be interesting to spec out a full blown performance version of the XPS M1330. With all the performance options in place the price soared past 2 grand, and is the forth column above. This gets into MacBook Pro territory. Maybe we should compare this version of the M1330 against the larger screened 15" MacBook Pro.

15" MacBook Pro - $1,999
2.2 GHz
2 GB RAM
nVidia GeForce 8600M GT
     w/ 128MB RAM
120GB @ 5400 rpm
Slot loading CD/DVD
802.11n WiFi
Bluetooth
Gigabit Ethernet
iSight Camera
5.4 pounds (w/ 60Whr Batt)
15.4" 1440 x 900
Dell XPS M1330 - $2,149
2.2 GHz
2 GB RAM
nVidia GeForce 8400M GS
     w/ 128MB RAM
120GB @ 5400 rpm
Slot loading CD/DVD
Intel Wireless-N
Bluetooth
100 Megabit Ethernet
0.3 Megapixel WebCam
4.7 pounds (w/ 85Whr Batt)
13.3" LED 1280 x 800 *


* In the top of the line XPS M1330 I optioned it with the Slim and Light White LED display. This is supposed to be a big improvement over the standard LCD display, which is what Apple uses (I think). This was a $150 option on the XPS.

I added Integrated Sound Blaster Audigy HD Software Edition and the Biometric Fingerprint Reader to the Dell. Why not, they were only $25 each. I went overboard on the battery for this configuration and optioned it with the standard 4 cell battery and a 9 cell battery. With the 9 cell battery the laptop goes from 3.9 to 4.7 pounds. I would use the 4 cell battery most of the time around the house, but would switch to the 9 cell battery any time I had to leave the house... even if leaving the house meant going out on the deck in the backyard. Without these "extra" features the price would still be over $2,000.

Regardless, the XPS in this configuration is more expensive than a 15" MacBook Pro. Ouch! Granted, we upgraded a lot with this configuration. But the CPU, memory, video, hard drive, wireless, and Bluetooth are all a match. Even the WebCam on the Dell takes a hit with the better LED screen, dropping to 0.3 megapixels. The MacBook Pro gives you a bigger screen, Gigabit Ethernet and a slight weight penalty for less money than the Dell XPS M1330.

Once again, we prove that Mac laptops are less expensive than hardware comparable Windows laptops.

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Windows vs. Ubuntu - A Price Comparison

Finally... we can compare apples to apples (no pun intended) of identically configured computers and determine how much of the price is going to the Microsoft Machine. Dell recently started offering Ubuntu on some of its computers. Since I have been pricing laptops for a while lately I thought I would use Dell's Inspiron 1400 Series to act as the guinea pig. I priced a 1420 and 1420N, just to see what the price difference was. Let's have a look at the basic specs of an Inspiron 1400 with Windows Vista Basic:

Inspiron 1420
1.5GHz Core 2 Duo (T5250)
Glossy Widescreen 14.1" display @ 1280 x 800
Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100
1GB Shared DDR2 Memory
80GB SATA 5400RPM Hard Drive
24X CD Burner/DVD Combo Drive
Intel 3945 802.11a/g Mini-card (+$25)
56Whr Lithium Ion Battery
Windows Vista Basic
1Yr Ltd Warranty and Mail-In Service

The above configuration had 1 option, the Intel 3945 wireless network card. Intel helped with the Linux drivers for its wireless card, which is the only wireless solution available on the Ubuntu box. I added this card to the Windows laptop so we can truly rule out anything but the software. If you were trying to get the cheapest Windows laptop in this product line you can save $25 if you opt for Dell's own wireless solution. Plus you can upgrade the Windows box to Intel's Wireless-N for more speed. Of course you can't upgrade the Ubuntu box to this particular Intel Wireless solution.

On the Inspiron 1420 the price to upgrade to Windows Home Premium is $29. I thought that might be of interest. So, what about Ubuntu? O.K. I configured a Dell Inspiron 1420N, an identical laptop, with Ubuntu and the price was $774. That puts the cost of Windows Home Basic at $50, and Windows Home Premium at $79. What we still don't know is whether Dell is charging us more than they are paying Microsoft. The cheapest way I know to buy Windows Home Premium is to buy the educational version of Windows Vista Home Premium Upgrade from Academic Superstore for $69.95. We should all know by now that you can install the upgrade version without actually upgrading a computer.

Clearly a copy of the full version of Windows Home Premium costs us more to buy than $79 if we have to find it ourselves. Academic Superstore puts the full version at $240. At the minimum Dell's buying power is helping us.

As for accessories with the Dell laptops... the Ubuntu box only lists cases, bags and mice. The Windows Box offers Printers, Anti-Virus software, Productivity software, Photo and Music Software, Burn & Video Editing software, Top Selling Software as well as the bags and mice. Of course, all those software options are Windows applications, so it is expected they would not be available for Linux.

So, how much does Windows cost? The bottom line here is that Windows Vista Home Basic costs $50, with Vista Home Premium costing $79. At least this is the price you are paying when you buy a computer. I did not delve too deeply into details, but Windows must come with some level of support. Dell charges to support Ubuntu, with the least expensive support option being $65 for 30 days of support. Ouch! If you need support for Ubuntu from Dell, you might as well get Windows instead. Anyone buying a laptop with Linux on it know that there is plenty of community support for Linux that does not cost a cent, and probably already uses it.

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Conclusion

I always wanted to know how much Windows really cost... and now we do. It has been a busy month. Work is getting more and more busy, so I expect to have less time in the coming months to get a lot of content in this column. But I am working on some topics. I have the story about the hard drives from my server, and I priced out some hardware to upgrade (get working) my desktop so it will be ready to play DX10 games.

Stay tuned.

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